The Florida Supreme Court is taking first steps to consider a legal challenge from the state attorney general, who is seeking to invalidate a marijuana legalization initiative that an industry-funded campaign is seeking to place on the 2024 ballot.
In a notice posted last week, the court acknowledged that Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) had submitted an opinion contesting the reform measure based on a single subject challenge, as she’s done with earlier legalization bids.
Before the Supreme Court makes a decision in the case, it said that initial briefings on the matter are due by June 12. Subsequent reply briefs will then be required to be submitted by July 5 and 12.
— FloridaSupremeCourt (@flcourts) May 23, 2023
The attorney general’s initial filing on the initiative was submitted about a week after the Smart & Safe Florida campaign said that they’ve collected enough raw signatures to qualify for for 2024 ballot placement.
Moody claimed that the initiative violates the state Constitution’s single subject rule, which requires ballot proposals to be narrowly focused on an individual issue. She made the same argument against a 2022 legalization measure, and the Supreme Court subsequently invalidated it.
The Supreme Court is always required to review ballot petitions after they exceed a certain signature threshold, which the Smart & Safe Florida campaign achieved in January.
Despite Moody’s opinion, activists say that they’ve thoroughly vetted the measure and are confident the court will agree that it complies with constitutional requirements.
The cannabis company Trulieve, which is financially backing the Smart & Safe Florida campaign and has contributed more than $38 million to date, announced earlier this month that advocates had “gathered sufficient raw signatures for inclusion on the November 2024 ballot.”
The Florida Division of Elections updates the ballot signature counts at the end of each month, so the current total isn’t reflected yet. But the last update showed that the campaign was about 94 percent of the way though, so it makes sense that advocates would’ve closed that gap at this point.
To make the ballot, activists will need to turn in 891,523 valid signatures. So far, the state had verified 786,747 signatures. By the end of February the campaign had crossed the symbolic threshold of 420,000 signatures. That rose to 635,961 valid signatures as of March.
If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies in the state like Trulieve to begin selling marijuana to all adults over 21. It contains a provision that would allow—but not require—lawmakers to take steps toward the approval of additional businesses. Home cultivation by consumers would not be allowed under the proposal as drafted.
Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, only five grams of which could be marijuana concentrate products. The three-page measure also omits equity provisions favored by advocates such as expungements or other relief for people with prior cannabis convictions.
A poll published in March found that 70 percent of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana. Florida voters approved a medical cannabis constitutional amendment in 2016.
Here’s what the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. The cap for marijuana concentrates would be five grams.
Medical cannabis dispensaries could “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute marijuana products and marijuana accessories to adults for personal use.”
The legislature would be authorized—but not required—to approve additional entities that are not currently licensed cannabis dispensaries.
The initiative specifies that nothing in the proposal prevents the legislature from “enacting laws that are consistent with this amendment.”
The amendment further clarifies that nothing about the proposal “changes federal law,” which seems to be an effort to avoid past legal challenges about misleading ballot language.
There are no provisions for home cultivation, expungement of prior records or social equity.
The measure would take effect six months following approval by voters.
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Here’s the full text of the ballot title and summary:
“Allows adults 21 years or older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories for non-medical personal consumption by smoking, ingestion, or otherwise; allows Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, and other state licensed entities, to acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute such products and accessories. Applies to Florida law; does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law. Establishes possession limits for personal use. Allows consistent legislation. Defines terms. Provides effective date.”
Should the initiative make the 2024 ballot, at least 60 percent of Florida voters would have to approve the measure for it to be enacted.
An earlier poll released in 2021 found that a majority of Florida voters (59 percent) support legalizing cannabis for adult use, so that’s a slim margin that shows that advocates will have their work cut out for them if the measure qualifies.
Meanwhile, activists that aren’t directly involved in the Smart & Safe Florida campaign said last year that they were exploring plans to have voters decide on what they hope will be a complementary measure permitting adults to grow their own cannabis at home.